I'm a Victorian freelance writer & photographer living in the Macedon Ranges north of Melbourne.
Published August 22nd 2013
Victoria's Dangerous Landfall
In fine weather visitors to the Victorian coast west of Cape Otway might be forgiven for disbelieving stories of the many tragedies which have unfolded there. But go on a day when the icy wind blows unhindered all the way from the Antarctic, pushing before it massive swells which pound relentlessly against the shore, and you'll quickly realise that this is a very dangerous coast, fully deserving of its ominous place in history as a maritime graveyard.
Only 7 of the 12 Apostles are visible from the public viewing area
Many fine ships have ended their days along this shore, some vanishing almost without trace. Names such as the NEWFIELD, FALLS OF HALLADALE and ANTARES are indelibly etched into the soft limestone, invisible monuments to the hundreds of poor souls who have perished there.
Having picked up the favourable winds of the Southern Ocean and striving to find the relatively narrow entrance to Bass Strait between King Island and Cape Otway, it was common for early navigators to find themselves off-course. If their efforts were further hampered by poor visibility, chances were good they might run onto the treacherous shore before knowing it. This was the case with many, but not all of the disasters which occurred here.
The 12 Apostles attract countless tourists to the Port Campbell National Park annually
On a dark but clear night in December 1855 the clipper SCHOMBERG, nearing the end of her maiden voyage from England, was close inshore off Curdies Inlet, east of Peterborough. When the wind suddenly dropped the ship drifted onto a reef and became stuck fast. There was no loss of life, passengers were taken off by a passing coastal steamer, but attempts to refloat the SCHOMBERG were unsuccessful and she eventually broke up.
Cape Otway Lighthouse was one of several light stations built in an attempt to minimise the danger along the Shipwreck Coast
But along this coast there is no more dramatic story than that of the LOCH ARD. A steel hulled clipper she was en-route from Gravesend to Melbourne carrying general cargo and fifty-one passengers and crew. At about 4 AM on June 1st 1878, another victim of inexact navigation and with the looming shoreline obscured by sea fog, the LOCH ARD was driven ashore at Mutton Bird Island.
Eva Carmichael, daughter of the ship's doctor, and Tom Pearce, the ships apprentice, were the only survivors, both carried by raging seas into the gorge which now bears the vessels name. After recovering briefly in a cave Pearce made his way to the top of the gorge and eventually met up with two stockmen from nearby Glenample Station, returning with them to rescue Eva. Four bodies, including Eva's mother and sister, were recovered and buried on a nearby headland.
Eva Carmichael and Tom Pearce were swept through the narrow entrance to Loch Ard Gorge in raging seas
Loch Ard Gorge is just one of many attractions within the Port Campbell National Park. Adjacent to it are The Blowhole, Thundercave and the magnificent Twelve Apostles, sheer rock stacks of postcard fame, isolated from the coast by centuries of erosion. But don't expect to see 12, only 7 of the rock columns remain visible from the viewing area.
The Ship Wreck Coast near Port Campbell
Just east of the Apostles it's possible to get down onto the beach using a series of steps cut into the cliff face by Hugh Gibson, a pioneer settler of last century. To descend 'Gibson's Steps' and stand on the beach is a breath-taking experience, but not something to be attempted in other than ideal conditions.